The Flash: 80 Years of the Fastest Man Alive – the Deluxe Edition

By Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Joshua Williamson, Gail Simone, Harry Lampert, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Alex Saviuk, Greg LaRocque, Mike Wieringo, Paul Ryan, Scott Kolins, Neil Googe, Clayton Henry & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9813-5 (HB)

The Flash was the first specialist superhero in comics. He was the blessed by only one extra-normal power yet started a trend and inspired a wave of imitators.

Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Scarlet Speedster in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and  “The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers for over a decade before changing tastes benched him in 1951. After a period of unremarkable he-men dominated comics pages for half a decade, the concept of speedsters, and indeed, superheroes in general were revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 where and when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept.

The Silver Age Flash, whose creation and subsequent stellar run ushered in a new and seemingly unstoppable era of costumed crusaders, died heroically during Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986). He was promptly succeeded by his sidekick Kid Flash. Of course, Allen later returned from the dead, but doesn’t everyone, eventually?

There have been many super-speedsters in the DCU and most of them congregate in the conjoined metropolis of Keystone and Central City. As Kid Flash/Flash, Wally West – chronologically the third official incarnation – lived there with his true love Linda Park, his Aunt Iris (Barry Allen’s widow) and fellow fast-fighters such as Jay Garrick. Impulse (juvenile speedster Bart Allen from the future, who also became a/The Flash) and his mentor/keeper Max Mercury – the Zen Master of hyper-velocity – lived in Alabama, but often visited as they only were picoseconds away…

A true icon of the industry and art form, The Flash is synonymous with superb comics storytelling and this splendid collection – available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats – offers curated material from Flash Comics#1, 89, 96, Showcase #4, The Flash #106, 110, 123, 155, 275, 300, Flash #54, 91, 133, 182, The Flash #0, DC Comics Holiday Special 2017 and The Flash Giant #2, celebrating a concept as much as the heroes who serially embodied it. The stories span January 1940 to February 2019 and are augmented by a succession of essays and articles, beginning with an Introduction by Dan Didio, before sprinting head first into the first milestone.

Created and crafted by Gardner F. Fox & Harry Lampert, ‘The Origin of the Flash’ appeared in and headlined anthology Flash Comics #1, which also introduced Hawkman and Johnny Thunder amongst others. The fast-paced first feature reveals how over-achieving physics student Garrick is exposed to “hard water fumes”. After initially putting him in a coma, the accident gives him super-speed, reactions and endurance. The breezy tale speedily delivers an origin, a returning cast and a classic confrontation with sinister syndicate the Faultless Four and their diabolical leader Sieur Satan.

Essay ‘Flash of Two Whirls’ by Roy Thomas then details Garrick’s career with a canny concentration on psychologically-framed arch enemy The Thorn. She was a plant-themed villain who hid within an innocent and demure split personality called Rose, who only had two published appearances. A third “lost” adventure completes the comics section, then  follows one of many unpublished episodes shelved by the abrupt decline of superheroes at the end of the 1940s. How and why so much material was saved is also revealed in Thomas’ treatise before the action resumes with ‘Introducing the Thorn: The Flash’s Newest Opponent’.

Cover-dated November 1947, Flash Comics #89, the lead story was crafted by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert and detailed how a vicious, sexy criminal rampaged across the city pursued by the hero and her “sister”. Sporting a far more refined outfit, she resurfaced in Flash Comics #96 (June 1948, Kanigher & Kubert) threatening Keystone in ‘The Flash and the Thorn-Stalk’, before once again apparently perishing.

Seen here in stark monochrome, again by Kanigher & Kubert, ‘Strange Confession’ sat in a draw unpublished since 1948 until rescued by Marv Wolfman. Now it completes a trilogy of epic psycho-dramas as Rose and the Thorn battle the Fastest Man Alive again before being apparently cured by the intervention of the Justice Society of America

‘A Flash of Inspiration’ by Paul Kupperberg then sets the scene for the Allen Age of Comics…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the newsstands by over a year, yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956 (cover-dated October). The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America between December 1953 and October 1955.

Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the last days of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously attempt superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and former flash artist Joe Kubert.

The new Flash was a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry Allen cheekily took his superhero identity from an old comic book featuring his (at that time “fictional”) predecessor Jay Garrick. Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

From his spectacular run comes the pivotal event which marked the beginning of a way of life for so many addicted kids. Written by Kanigher, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Kubert, Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’was another quick-fire origin with crime story attached as the brand-new hero discovers his powers and mission and still finds time to defeat a modern iteration of the Turtle – a criminal mastermind dubbed “the Slowest Man Alive!”.

Following his meteoric launch in Showcase #4, the Flash was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more cautiously released trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959 – so it was out for Christmas 1958). John Broome and Gardner Fox would write the bulk of the early tales, introducing a “big science” sensibility and – courtesy of Broome – an unmatched Rogues Gallery of fantastic foes which would become the template for all proper superheroes.

Crafted by John Broome, Infantino & Joe Giella, ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ comes from The Flash #106 (May 1959). It was the second story (behind the Pied Piper’s debut) and introduces one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of super-simians debuted here – promptly returning for the next two issues – in a cunning yarn as the ultra-advanced ape invades the human world in search of the greatest mind on Earth, which he intends to subjugate for his own nefarious purposes…

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a big monkey in it markedly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days), but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Next up is another landmark: two in fact…

The Flash #110 (January 1960) was a huge hit, not so much for the debut of another worthy candidate to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Weather Wizard’ but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Scarlet Speedster became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive. Broome, Infantino & Giella’s ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date). Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck…

Super-Editor Schwartz guaranteed a new epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, which directly led to the Justice League of America – and even more revivals. This in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age varnished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids. The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration and a prime component of most modern fantasy serials in books, film, TV and comics.

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster became the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with Broome and Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (The Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Giella) introduces the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity. The idea grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters, but of those bold sallies, only The Spectre briefly graduated to his own title…

When the Scarlet Speedster wasn’t boggling minds he was furiously fighting the best villains in comics. The inevitable had to happen – and finally did – in The Flash #155 (September 1965) when Broome teamed six of the Rogue’s Gallery into ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’: a bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza, but one with a hidden twist and a mystery foe concealed in the wings…

As tastes changed, The Flash evolved with them and survived the early 1970s downturn in superhero storytelling, but nobody was prepared for a truly big shock. When Cary Bates, Alex Saviuk & Frank Chiaramonte held ‘The Last Dance’in #275 (July 1979), it heralded the end of an era when comfortable married Barry was unable to prevent the murder of his beloved Iris by a truly insane enemy…

No, that’s not a spoiler. She came back. They always do: it’s just that nobody knew that back then and it did take decades to undo the evil act…

In the meantime, Barry moved on and began life as a widowed singleton. Anniversary epic The Flash #300 (August 1981, Bates, Infantino & Bob Smith) featured ‘1981- A Flash Odyssey’ comprising a deft recapitulation of his life and career, all wrapped up in a cunning and sadistic scheme to drive him mad perpetrated by his most vicious foe…

‘The Flash – A.K.A. Wally West’ by William Messner-Loebs ushers in the era of the third Flash as the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Initially Wally West struggled to fill the boots of his predecessor, both in sheer ability and, more tellingly, in confidence. Feeling a fraud, he nonetheless persevered and eventually overcame, becoming the greatest to carry the name. Typifying that highly-engaging transition period comes ‘Nobody Dies’ (Flash #54 September 1991) by Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque & José Marzán Jr., focussing on the intricacies of the speedster’s powers as his hyper-fast abilities – and their limits – are tested whilst trying to save a flight attendant plunging from a aircraft…

Mark Waid discusses the hero’s ‘Legacy’ before ‘Out of Time’ from Flash #91 (June 1994) expands the dilemma of how much even the most powerful man can do in a classic mind-boggler by Waid, Mike Wieringo & Marzán Jr.

Towards the end of the 1990s the grand, old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology and methodology was given a bit of post-modern gloss when Caledonian wizards Grant Morrison and Mark Millar turned their considerable talents to Wally West incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. In Flash #133 (cover-dated January 1998), the Celtic lads showed American writers how it’s all pronounced when Scottish legacy villain Mirror Master attacks a wounded and recuperating hero: abducting his bride-to-be Linda in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’. Illustrated by Paul Ryan & John Nyberg, the story features a spectacular race against time to prevent her de-aging out of existence and is followed by a memorable contribution from Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Dan Panosian. ‘Absolute Zero’ (Flash #182, March 2002) delves deep into the frosty psyche of arch rogue Len Snart as the chilling Captain Cold goes looking for the killer of his little sister Lisa

Reboots are an inescapable hazard of modern comics as publishers periodically seek to make old soldiers fresh and palatable to an ever-changing readership. In 2011 DC used the Flashpoint publishing event to restart their entire continuity in a project dubbed The New 52. As always, the result was instant attention-grabbing from the press but mixed results for the fans. The Flash weathered the change better than most and a new, younger Barry Allen returned to the streets of his city to start his career all over again.

Crafted by Francis Manapul and lettered by Steve Wands, ‘First Step’ offers a potent painted picture spread introducing the new-old vizier of velocity and is followed by a rehashed origin in Manapul & Brian Buccellato’s ‘Before the New 52’from The Flash #0: released in November 2012, a year after the big change.

TV Flash scripter Todd Helbing describes ‘The Impossible’ before we hit the final stretch with delightful and evocative short tale ‘Hope for the Holidays’ by Joshua Williamson & Neil Googe – taken from DC Holiday Special December 2017 and with Scarlet Speedster playing Christmas spirit – before The Flash Giant #2 (February 2019) provides ‘Get Out of the Kitchen’ by Gail Simone, Clayton Henry, reintroducing classic Rogue Mick Rory as a far nastier Heatwave.

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Cover Highlights celebrating each era – the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern Ages – with a selection of unforgettable front images and a full roster of Biographies celebrating the many artist and writers who have passed on the baton since 1940.

One of the most revered comics heroes of all time, The Flash has probably been all things to most people in his/their time. Always exciting and never a waste of time, the hero is one no fan of the basics should miss. Why not try them all? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?
© 1940, 1947, 1948, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1979, 1981, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2012, 2017, 2019 DC Comics. DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Shazam! Archives volume 1


By Bill Parker, C. C. Beck & Pete Costanza (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-053-6 (HB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer fun and exuberance of a child’s first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is the original happy-go-lucky hero we can’t call Captain Marvel anymore.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the comicbook sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot eventually won his name after narrowly missing being Captain Flash or Captain Thunder. He was the brainchild of Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck.

Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by employing and enjoying an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made him the best-selling comics character in America.

Ultimately, he proved that he could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of enforced inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out and compare their cinematic blockbuster version with the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! flick too…

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

As previously stated, the big guy was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young artist Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Other writers included William Woolfolk, Rod Reed, Ed “France” Herron, Joe Simon, Joe Millard, Manley Wade Wellman and the wonderfully prolific Otto Binder.

Before eventually evolving his own affable personality, the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse, whilst his juvenile alter ego was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s name – an acronym for six legendary divine patrons: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

This magnificent full-colour, deluxe hardback compendium re-presents the first 15 exploits from Whiz Comics #2 to 15 (February 1940 to March 1941). There was no #1, two issue #5’s and two editions in March, but I’ll try to explain all that as we go along) to cash in on the sales phenomenon of Superman and his many imitators and descendants.

Author, journalist and fan Richard A. Lupoff covers in great detail the torturous beginnings of the feature in his Foreword before the magic proper starts with a rare and priceless glimpse at the hero’s nigh-cursed design stage. This shamefully out-of-print tome also contains biographical details on all the creators.

To establish copyright, publishers used to legally register truncated black and white facsimile editions called “Ash-can Editions” in advance of their launch issues. For Fawcett, the production of their first comicbook proved an aggravating process since this registration twice uncovered costly snags which forced the editors to redesign both character and publication.

Contained herein are cover reproductions of Flash Comics #1 starring Captain Thunder (obliviously scheduled for release mere days after DC’s own Flash Comics title hit the stands), and Thrill Comics #1 which repeated the accident just as Standard’s Thrilling Comics launched. Also on view is the uncoloured art for the first half of the story of “Captain Thunder” which would eventually be re-lettered and released as the lead in anthology title Whiz Comics #2, finally safely released cover-dated February 1940.

Like many Golden Age series, the stories collected here never had individual titles and DC’s compilers have cleverly elected to use the original comics’ strap-lines or cover blurbs to differentiate the tales…

‘Gangway for Captain Marvel!’ – drawn in style reminiscent of early Hergé – sees homeless orphan newsboy Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with infinitely ancient wizard Shazam. At the end of a long life confronting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the powers and signature gifts of six gods and heroes; bidding him to continue the good fight.

In 13 delightfully clean and simple pages Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and defeats the demonic schemes of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, who is holding the airwaves of America hostage. The mighty, taciturn and not yet invulnerable Marvel is only sparingly used to do the heavy lifting. It is sheer comicbook poetry…

The March issue had no cover number but was listed as #3 in the indicia. It featured ‘The Return of Sivana’ as the insane inventor unleashes a mercenary army equipped with his super-weapons upon the nation, attempting to become Emperor of America. His plan is duly thwarted by Billy acting as a war correspondent, and the mighty muscles of Marvel…

The third (April) Whiz Comics had “Number 3” on the cover but #4 inside and proudly proclaimed ‘Make Way for Captain Marvel!’ before bolding leaping into full science fiction mode as Billy is shanghaied to Venus in Sivana’s mighty rocket-ship. The boy is forced to reveal his amazing secret to the demented inventor whilst battling incredible monsters and giant frog-men dubbed “Glompers”, with the magnificently guileless and gallant Marvel seemingly helpless against the savant’s new ally Queen Beautia as the deadly duo prepare to invade Earth.

Only seemingly though…

‘Captain Marvel Crashes Through’ (4 on the cover, #5 inside) details how the bewitching Beautia, aided by Sivana’s technology, runs for President. However, the sinister siren has a soft heart and when Billy is captured (and faces the first of a multitude of clever gadgets designed to stop him saying his magic word), she frees him, thus falling foul of the gangsters who were backing her. Luckily Captain Marvel is there to save the day…

An inexplicable crime-wave shakes the country in ‘Captain Marvel Scores Again!’ (the wild numbers game finally ends here as there’s a 5 on the cover and #5 inside) as a different sinister scientist uses a ray to turn children into thieves. Even Billy is not immune…

‘Captain Marvel and the Circus of Death’ (July 1940) sees Sivana return with fantastic Venusian dino-monsters which the Good Captain is hard-pressed to handle. Incidentally, this was the first issue where the Big Red Cheese is seen definitely flying as opposed to leaping – something Superman is not acknowledged as doing until late 1941. It means nothing, I’m just saying emulation goes both ways…

In ‘Captain Marvel and the Squadron of Doom’, young Billy travels to the North Pole for a radio story and discovers a secret organisation thawing out frozen cavemen to act as their army of conquest, after which he and his mature magical avatar foil a murderous spiritualist causing mass-drownings to bolster his reputation and fortune in ‘Saved by Captain Marvel!’

Whiz #9’s ‘Captain Marvel on the Job!’ finds man and boy foiling a revolution, recovering foreign crown jewels and flummoxing a madman with a shrinking ray, after which Sivana and Beautia return in ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Winged Death’: a blistering yarn involving espionage and America’s latest secret weapon. In this tale, the Empress of Venus finally reforms to became a solid American citizen…

‘Hurrah for Captain Marvel!’ finds Batson investigating college hazing and corrupt sporting events whilst in #12 (January 1941), the World War looms large as “Gnatzi” maritime outrages bring Billy to London where he uncovers the spy responsible for sinking refugee ships in ‘Captain Marvel Rides the Engine of Doom!’

‘Captain Marvel – World’s Most Powerful Man!’ then features Sivana’s latest atrocity as the madman disrupts hockey matches, blitzes banks and incapacitates the US army with a formula that turns men into babies. Even Billy isn’t immune, but at least Beautia is there to help him…

War looked increasingly inescapable and many heroes jumped the gun and started fighting before America officially entered the fray. ‘Captain Marvel Boomerangs the Torpedo!’ is a superb patriotic cover for Whiz #14 (March 1941) even though the actual story involves Sivana’s capture and subsequent discovery of a thought process which allows him to walk through walls – and cell bars. Happily, the World’s Mightiest Mortal possesses the Wisdom of Solomon and deduces a solution to the unstoppable menace…

This superb collection concludes after another stirring cover ‘With the British Plane Streaking to a Fiery Doom, Captain Marvel Dives to the Rescue!’ (issue #15 and also cover-dated March), fronting an unrelated adventure which reveals the incredible origin of Dr. Sivana, his astounding connection to Beautia, and also introduced her brother Magnificus – almost as mighty a fighter as Marvel after Billy is kidnapped and trapped once again on Venus…

DC/National Periodical Publications had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released. The companies slugged it out in court until 1953, when, with the sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. The name lay unclaimed until 1967 when M.F. Enterprises released six issues of an unrelated android hero before folding after which Marvel Comics secured rights to the name in 1968.

DC eventually acquired the Fawcett properties and characters and in 1973 revived the Good Captain for a new generation, to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Retitled Shazam! due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention, the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is a true icon of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the 80 years of his tumultuous existence, but is an ideal introduction to the world of adventure comics: one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament.
© 1940, 1941, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Matt Wayne, J. Torres, Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, Carlo Barberi, Dan Davis & Terry Beatty (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2650-3 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now-legendary Viking Prince. Soon, the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but the manly adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman, Strange Sports Stories and the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow & Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding ones: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII Battle Stars Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad & Kid Flash, evolved after further try-outs into the Teen Titans and after, Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, brand new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

From then it was back to the extremely popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no gone realised it at the time, this particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman & Black Canary and Wonder Woman witth Supergirl, an indication of things to come materialised as Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away…

Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men, Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 Spectre</Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his decades-long publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title.

With constant funny book iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page.

One relatively recent incarnation was Batman: the Brave and the Bold, which gloriously teamed up the all-ages small-screen Dark Knight with a torrent and profusion of DC’s other heroic creations, and once again the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s comic book full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar premier collection (available in paperback but aggravatingly not in digital editions) gathers the first 6 issues in a hip, trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages and, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience (and they’re pretty good too)…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #1 has the Caped Crimebuster and Aquaman putting paid to robotic rogue Carapax. This feeds into main feature ‘The Panic of the Composite Creature’ (by Matt Wayne, Andy Suriano & Dan Davis) wherein Batman and the pulchritudinous Power Girl save London from Lex Luthor’s latest monster-making mechanism.

Phil Moy illustrates Superman and the Gotham Guardian mopping up the terrible Toyman before ‘The Attack of the Virtual Villains’ finds the Bat and Blue Beetle in El Paso battling evil Artificial Intellect The Thinker, in a compelling and extremely challenging computer-game world…

After an introductory battle between Wonder Woman , Dark Knight and telepathic tyrant Dr. Psycho’s zombie villains, ‘President Batman!’ (Wayne, Suriano & Davis) sees the Great Detective substitute for the Commander-in-Chief, with Green Arrow as bodyguard when body-swapping mastermind Ultra-Humanite attempts to seize control of the nation.

Then, in full-length thriller ‘Menace of the Time Thief!’, Aquaman and his bat-eared chum prevent well-intentioned Dr. Cyber from catastrophically rewriting history, following a magical and too brief prologue wherein sorcerer Felix Faust is foiled by a baby Batman and the glorious pushy terrible toddlers Sugar and Spike

Torres, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty stepped in for both the chilling vignette wherein the nefarious Key is caught by Batman and a Haunted Tank whilst ‘The Case of the Fractured Fairy Tale’ opens as the awesome Queen of Fables starts stealing children for her Enchanted Forest and the Caped Crusader needs the help of both Billy Batson and his Shazam!-shouting adult alter ego Captain Marvel

This initial outing concludes with a preliminary clash between Hourman and Batman against the crafty Calculator, after which ‘Charge of the Army Eternal!’ (Torres, Suriano & Davis) finds villainous General Immortus at the mercy of his own army of time-lost warrior bandits and desperately seeking the help of the Gotham Gangbuster and ghostly Guardian Kid Eternity..

Although greatly outnumbered, the Kid’s ability to summon past heroes such as The Vigilante, Shining Knight, Viking Prince and G.I. Robot proves invaluable, especially once the General inevitably betrays his rescuers…

This fabulously fun rollercoaster ride also includes informative ‘Secret Bat Files’ on Luthor, Power Girl, Thinker, Blue Beetle, Ultra-Humanite, Green Arrow, Dr. Cyber, Aquaman, Queen of Fables, Captain Marvel, General Immortus and Kid Eternity, and the package is topped off with a spiffy cover gallery courtesy of James Tucker, Scott Jeralds & Hi-Fi.

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV viewing kids, these short, sweet sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers, making this terrific tome a perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2009 DC Comics. Compilation © 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Age Spectre Archives


By Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily with various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-5638-9955-3 (HB)

There are a lot of comics anniversaries this year. Many will be rightly celebrated, but it appears that some few are going to be unjustly ignored. As a feverish fanboy wedged firmly in the past, I’m abusing my privileges here to kvetch yet again about another brilliant vintage book, criminally out of print and not slated for revival either physically or in digital formats. That means I’ll be occasionally recommending some items that might be a bit hard to find. But at least that means you might be buying from those poor beleaguered comics shops and specialists desperately in need of your support now, rather than some faceless corporate internet emporium…

In fact, considering the state of the market, how come DC doesn’t just convert its entire old Archive line into eBooks and win back a few veteran fans? Don’t ask me, I only work here…

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1939 before debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53 (cover-dated February and March 1940). He was the first superhero to star in the previously all-genres adventure anthology. For a few years, the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show.

By the time of his last appearance in More Fun #101 February 1945, the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman however, the ethereal champion of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course, in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

Re-presenting the first 19 eerie episodes and following a fulsome Foreword from pre-eminent Comics historian Dr. Jerry Bails, detailing the state of play within the budding marketplace during those last months of the 1930s, the arcane action in this astoundingly enticing full-colour deluxe hardback collection commences with ‘The Spectre: Introduction’ from More Fun Comics #52.

This wasn’t the actual title: like so many strips of those early days, most stories didn’t have individual titles and have been only retroactively designated for compilations such as this.

The Ghostly Guardian was only barely glimpsed in this initial instalment. Instead, the action rests upon hard-bitten police detective Jim Corrigan, who is about to wed rich heiress Clarice Winston when they are abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan dies and goes to his eternal reward.

Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit is accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, orders him return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them are gone…

Standing on the seabed and looking at his own corpse, Corrigan began his mission by going after his own killers…

In #53 ‘The Spectre Strikes’ find the outraged revenant swiftly, mercilessly and horrifically ending his murderers and saving Clarice, before calling off the engagement and moving out of the digs he shared with fellow cop and best friend Wayne Grant. After all, a cold, dead man has no need for the living…

The origin ends with Corrigan implausibly sewing himself a green and white costume and swearing to eradicate all crime…

Splendidly daft, this 2-part yarn comprises one of the darkest and most memorable origins in comic book annals and the feature only got better with each issue as the bitter, increasingly isolated lawman swiftly grows into most overwhelmingly powerful hero of the Golden Age.

In MFC #54 the Supernatural Sentinel tackled ‘The Spiritualist’, a murderous medium and unscrupulous charlatan who almost kills Clarice and forever ends the Spectre’s hopes for eternal rest, after which #55 introduces ‘Zor’: a ghost of far greater vintage and power, dedicated to promulgating evil on Earth. He too menaces Clarice and only the intervention of the Heavenly Voice and a quick upgrade in phantasmal power enables The Spectre to overcome his malign menace.

More Fun Comics #56 was the first to feature Howard Sherman’s Dr. Fate on the cover but the Spectre was still the big attraction, even if the merely mundane bandits and blackmailers instigating ‘Terror at Lytell’s’ are no match for the ever-inventive wrathful wraith. Far more serious was ‘The Return of Zor’ in #57, as the horrific haunt escapes from beyond to frame Corrigan for murder and again endanger the girl Jim dare not love…

An embezzler turns to murder as ‘The Arsonist’ in #58, but is no match for the cop – let alone his eldritch alter ego – whilst ‘The Fur Hi-Jackers’ actually succeed in killing the cop, yet are still suffer the Spectre’s unique brand of justice.

In #60, ‘The Menace of Xnon’ sees a super-scientist using incredible inventions to frame the ghost – and even menace his ethereal existence – prompting The Voice to again increase its servant’s power. This means giving The Spectre the all-powerful Ring of Life – but not before the Ghostly Guardian has been branded Public Enemy No. 1.

With Corrigan now ordered to arrest his spectral other self on sight, #61 (another Dr. Fate cover) features ‘The Golden Curse Deaths’ wherein prominent citizens perish from a scientific terror with a deadly Midas Touch, after which ‘The Mad Creation of Professor Fenton’ pits the Phantom Protector against a roving, ravaging, disembodied mutant super-brain…

In #63, a kill-crazy racketeer gets his just deserts in the electric chair only to return and personally execute ‘Trigger Daniels’ Death Curse’ upon all who opposed him in life. Happily, The Spectre proves to be more than his match whereas ‘The Ghost of Elmer Watson’ is a far harder foe to face. Murdered by mobsters who also nearly kill Wayne Grant, the remnant of the vengeful dead man refuses to listen to The Spectre’s brand of reason. Thus, its dreadful depredations must be dealt with in fearsome fashion…

‘Dr. Mephisto’ was a spiritualist who utilised an uncanny blue flame for crime in #65, after which the Ghostly Guardian battles horrendous monsters called forth from ‘The World Within the Paintings’ (probably written by the series’ first guest writer Gardner Fox), before Siegel returns with ‘The Incredible Robberies’ putting the phantom policeman into fearful combat with diabolical mystic Deeja Kathoon to the death and beyond…

With MFC #68 The Spectre finally lost his protracted cover battle to Dr. Fate even though, inside, the ‘Menace of the Dark Planet’ features a fabulously telling tale of Earthbound Spirit against alien invasion by life-leeching Little Green Men. In his next exploit ‘The Strangler’ murders lead Corrigan into an improbable case with an impossible killer…

This terrifying titanic tome terminates with issue #70 and ‘The Crimson Circle Mystery Society’ in which a sinister cult employs a merciless phantasmal psychic agent named Bandar to carry out its deadly schemes…

Although still a mighty force of fun and fearful entertainment, The Spectre’s Glory Days and Nights were waning and more credible champions were coming to the fore. He would be one of the first casualties of the post-War decline in mystery men and not be seen again until the Silver Age 1960’s…

Moreover, when he did return to comics, the previously omnipotent ghost was given strict limits and as he continued to evolve through various returns, refits and reboots The Spectre was finally transmogrified into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God. Revamped and revived in perpetuity, revealed to be the Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience, Jim Corrigan was finally laid to rest in the 1990s and HalGreen Lantern) Jordan replaced him. Returning to basics in more recent years, the next host was murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen.

They’re all worth tracking down and exhuming: spooky comic champions who have never failed to deliver an enthralling, haunted hero rollercoaster – or is that Ghost Train? – of thrills and chills.
© 1940, 1941, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Boo$ter Gold: The Big Fall


By Dan Jurgens, Mike DeCarlo, John Verpoorten, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0075-5 (HB)

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in the mid-1980s, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era. Simultaneously, a number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question joined the DC roster with their own much-hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as the superb Suicide Squad and a Shiny, Happy Hero named Booster Gold.

A true icon of capitalist brand-aware America, the newcomer has suffered numerous setbacks and relaunches, before finally finding his proper place as the guardian of DC’s timestream and continuity. This engaging hardback and eBook compilation covers his early days, re-presenting Booster Gold volume 1 #1-12 (spanning February 1986 to January 1987), and offers fascinating bonus background material as well as a backwards-looking revelatory Introduction from Dan Jurgens.

The blue and yellow paladin appeared amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title – the first post-Crisis premiere of the publisher’s freshly integrated superhero line- and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with inks by Mike DeCarlo ‘The Big Fall’ introduces a brash, cocky, mysterious metahuman/obnoxious golden-boy jock who has set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Unlike any other costumed champion, BG actively seeks corporate sponsorships, sells endorsements and has a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity…

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encounters high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and their super-enforcer Blackguard. This earns him the unrelenting ire of sinister mastermind The Director and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever-fickle public…

In issue #2’s ‘Cold Redemption’, Blackguard is aided and abetted by thought-casting mercenary Mindancer as the Director’s campaign of malice leads to another close call for Booster. Soon after, his highly public private life takes a tawdry turn in ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ when opportunistic starlet Monica Lake begins briefing the ravenous media on her “relationship” with the Man of Gold. He is unable to refute the claims since he was knee-deep in hired thugs and super-villains at the times she claims to have shared with him…

That cataclysmic combat in #4 results in a tremendous ‘Crash’ when urban vigilante The Thorn drops in to help scuttle the 1000’s latest scheme, but once the dust settles Booster finds himself in real trouble as business manager Dirk Davis is so busy licensing his boss for a comicbook that he fails to head off an IRS audit.

It appears Booster Gold has no official record and has never paid a penny in taxes…

Happily, in ‘Face Off’, our hero saves an entire stadium of ice hockey fans from avaricious terrorist Mr. Twister, earning himself a reprieve from the Federal authorities, after which an alien refugee crashes in Metropolis’ Centennial Park in #6’s ‘To Cross the Rubicon’. This sets up Man of Gold to finally meet Man of Steel for the long-awaited origin saga…

Michael Jon “Booster” Carter was a rising sports star in the 25th century who fell in with a gambling syndicate and began fixing games for cash pay-outs. When he was caught and banned from competition, he could only find menial work as a night-watchman in The Space Museum. Whilst there, he struck up a friendship with automated tour-guide and security-bot Skeets, and devised a bold plan to redeem himself.

Stealing a mysterious flight ring and force-field belt plus energy-rods, an alien super-suit and wrist-blasters, Booster used the Museum’s prize exhibit, Rip Hunter’s time machine, to travel to the fabled 20th Century Age of Heroes and earn all the fame and glory his mistakes had cost him in his own time…

Superman, already antagonistic because of Booster’s attitude, is ready to arrest him for theft when the almost-forgotten alien attacks…

They all awaken on a distant world, embroiled in a vicious civil war and personally still at odds. As a result of ‘The Lesson’ and a vicious battle, Superman and Booster both accept some uncomfortable truths and agree to tolerate each other when they return home. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Dirk Davis and company PA Trixie Collins hire hotshot scientist Jack Soo to build a super-suit that would enable Booster to hire a camera-friendly, girly eye-candy sidekick…

More questions are answered in 2-parter ‘Time Bridge’ when the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes discover evidence that their flight-rings and forcefield technology were being used by a temporal fugitive named Michael Carter. Dispatched to 1985 by the Time Institute, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy and Brainiac 5 arrive soon after the fugitive Carter and become involved in his very first case. The Director and shape-shifting assassin Chiller were planning to murder and replace Ronald Reagan but, in the best superhero tradition, Carter and the Legionnaires misunderstood each other’s intentions and butted heads…

The plot might have succeeded had not Skeets intervened, allowing Carter to save the day and get official Presidential approval. Ronnie even got to name the new hero…

Back in 1986, the long-building final clash with the Director opens in #10 with ‘Death Grip of the 1000’ as Dirk’s daughter is kidnapped and he’s coerced into betraying Booster, just as the nefarious super-mob unleash a horde of robotic terrors on Metropolis to wear out the Man of Gold and catalogue his weaknesses…

After Trixie is also abducted in ‘When Glass Houses Shatter’, the 1000 increase the pressure by setting blockbusting thug Shockwave on Booster, resulting in the utter destruction of the hero’s corporate HQ and home before a frenzied and frenetic final clash in ‘War’, which leaves a proud owner of an extremely pyrrhic victory…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing these blockbuster battle frenzies, ‘The Making of Booster Gold’ takes us back to the beginning and reveals how the series came about, reprinting Jurgens’ original series proposal, first character and costume studies, augmented by models of Skeets and premium give-aways, assorted press release materials and house ads, and the editorial pages from #1.

Even more enticing is ‘The Secret Origin of Booster Gold #6’, detailing how John Byrne’s reimagination of Superman in Man of Steel caused some frantic rewriting of the published BG issue. The hidden benefit of that is five pages of unused pencils that had to be scrapped to accommodate the new reality offer an intriguing “What If?” to end proceedings here…

As a frontrunner of the new DC, Booster Gold was a radical experiment in character that didn’t always succeed, but which definitely and exponentially improved; as the months rolled by the time traveller grew into one of DC’s best books.

Perhaps not to every Fights ‘n’ Tights fan’s taste, these formative fictions are absolutely vital to your understanding of the later classics and have a dated charm that may well suit you, too.
© 1986-1987, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Creeper by Steve Ditko


By Ditko, Don Segall, Denny O’Neil, Michael Fleisher, Mike Peppe, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2592-6 (HB)

Steve Ditko was one of our industry’s greatest and most influential talents and, during his lifetime, amongst America’s least lauded. Always reclusive and reticent by inclination, his fervent desire was always just get on with his job, tell stories the best way he can and let his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude was usually a minor consideration – and even an actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of the comic industry’s output.

After Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to his quitting Marvel – where his groundbreaking efforts made the reclusive genius (at least in comicbook terms) a household name – he found work at Warren Comics and resumed his long association with Charlton Comics.

That company’s laissez faire editorial attitudes had always offered him the most creative freedom, if not greatest financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by the rapidly-slipping industry leader and he took some of his bullpen of key creators with him to DC Comics. Whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new and regular home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during this heady if unsettled period that the first strips derived from Ditko’s interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus he devised a brace of cult classics with The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating concept re-presented here: Beware The Creeper. Later efforts would include Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man, plus truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, the Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

The auteur’s comings and goings also allowed him to revisit past triumphs and none more so than with The Creeper who kept periodically popping up like a mad, bad penny. This superb hardcover compilation – still tragically and inexplicably languishing with other classics DC still hasn’t got around to making available in digital formats – gleefully gathers every Ditko-drafted and delineated Creeper classic from a delirious decade for your delight. It curates tales from Showcase #73, Beware the Creeper #1-6, 1st Issue Special #7, World’s Finest Comics #249-255 and Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2/Showcase #106 (collectively spanning March/April 1968 to February/March 1979), and the spooky superhero spectacle kicks off with an effusive Introduction from appreciative fan Steve (30 Days of Night) Niles.

Like so many brilliant ideas before it, Ditko’s bizarre DC visions first exploded off the newsstands in try-out title Showcase. Issue #73 heralded ‘The Coming of the Creeper!!’ with veteran comics and TV scripter Don Segall putting the words to Ditko’s plot and illustrations.

The moodily macabre tale introduces suicidally-outspoken TV host Jack Ryder, whose attitude to his show’s sponsors and cronies loses him his cushy job. His brazen attitude does, however, impress network security chief Bill Brane and the gruff oldster offers him a job as an investigator and occasional bodyguard.

Jack’s first case involves tracking down recent Soviet defector Professor Yatz who has gone missing. The CIA suspect has been abducted by gangster Angel Devilin and sold to Red agent Major Smej

Displaying a natural affinity for detective work, Ryder tracks a lead to Devilin’s grand house and interrupts a costume party designed as a cover to make the trade. Promptly kicked out by thugs, Ryder heads for a costume shop but can only find a box of garish odds and ends… and lots of makeup.

Kitted out in strange melange of psychedelic attire, he breaks back in but is caught and stabbed before being thrown into a cell with the missing Yatz. The scientist – also grievously wounded – is determined to keep his inventions out of the hands of evil men. These creations comprise an instant healing serum and a Molecular Transmuter, able to shunt whatever a person is wearing or carrying into and out of our universe. A fully equipped army could enter a country as harmless tourists and materialise a complete armoury before launching sneak attacks…

To preserve them, Yatz buries the Transmuter inside Ryder’s knife wound before injecting him with the untested serum. The effect is instantaneous and doesn’t even leave a scar. The investigator is also suddenly faster, stronger and more agile…

When Jack presses a handheld activator, he is instantly naked and experimentation shows that he can make his motley costume appear and disappear just by pushing a button. Of course, now, whenever it is activated, neither makeup nor wig, bodystocking, boots or gloves will come off. It’s like the crazy outfit has become a second skin…

When the gangsters come for their captives, Yatz is burning his notes and in the fracas that follows catches a fatal bullet. Furious, guilt-ridden and strangely euphoric, Ryder goes after the thugs and spies, but by the time the cops arrive finds himself – or at least his canary yellow alter ego – blamed by Devilin for the chaos and even burglary.

The mobster has even given him a name… The Creeper

As soon as the furore dies down the vengeful Ryder returns to exact justice for the professor and discovers his uncanny physical prowess and macabre, incessant unnerving laughter give him an unbeatable edge and win him a supernatural reputation…

After that single issue the haunting hero hurtled straight into his own bimonthly series. Beware the Creeper #1 debuted with a May/June cover-date. Behind one of the most evocative covers of the decade – or indeed, ever – ‘Where Lurks the Menace?’ (scripted by Denny O’Neil under his occasional pen-name Sergius O’Shaughnessy) finds Ryder and the Creeper hunting an acrobatic killer beating to death a number of shady types in a savage effort to take over the city’s gangs.

Jack’s relentless pursuit of the terror and careful piecing together of many disparate clues to his identity is only hindered by the introduction of publicity-hungry, obnoxious glamour-puss ‘Vera Sweet’. The TV weathergirl thinks she has the right to monopolise Ryder’s time and attention even when he’s ducking fists and bullets…

The remainder of the far-too-brief run featured a classic duel of opposites as a chameleonic criminal mastermind insinuated himself into the lives of Jack and the Brane bunch. It all began with ‘The Many Faces of Proteus!’ in issue #2 (by Ditko & O’Shaughnessy) as a pompous do-gooder’s TV campaign against The Creeper is curtailed when the Golden Grotesque shows up at the studio throwing bombs.

Caught in the blast is the baffled and battered Jack Ryder, and he’s even more bewildered when Brane informs him that a tip has come in confirming the Creeper is working for gambler gangboss Legs Larsen

Dodging Vera, whose latest scheme involves a fake engagement, the real Creeper reaches Larsen’s gaming house in time to see a faceless man put a bullet into the prime suspect. In the ensuing panic the Laughing Terror transforms back into Ryder and strolls out carrying Larsen’s files, unaware that the faceless man is watching him leave and putting a few clues together himself…

The documents reveal a lone player has been slowly consolidating a hold on the city’s underworld but discloses no concrete information, so the Creeper goes on a very public rampage against assorted criminals in hopes of drawing Proteus out. The gambit works perfectly as a number of close friends try to kill Ryder, but only after he frantically fends off a flamethrower-wielding Vera in his own apartment does the Creeper realise that Proteus is far more than a madman with a makeup kit. A spectacular rooftop duel ends in a collapsed building and the apparent end of the protean plunderer, but there’s no body to be found in the rubble…

Beware the Creeper #3 has our outré hero tearing the city’s thugs apart looking for Proteus, but his one-man spook-show is curtailed when Brane sends Ryder to find Vera. Little Miss Wonderful is determined to be the first to interview an island society cut off from the world for over a century, but all contact has been lost since she arrived. Tracking her to ‘The Isle of Fear’ Jack finds her in the hands of a death cult.

More important to Ryder, however, is the fact that the Supreme One who leads the maniacs is actually a top criminal offering sanctuary to the Proteus flunkies he’s been scouring the city for…

Back in civilisation again, ‘Which Face Hides My Enemy?’ sees Ryder expose High Society guru and criminal mesmerist Yogi Birzerk’s unsuspected connection to Proteus. The cops drive Creeper away before he can get anything from the charlatan, and when he dejectedly returns home Jack walks into an explosive booby trap in his new apartment.

The “warning” from Proteus heralds the arrival of Asian troubleshooters Bulldog Bird and Sumo who claim to be also pursuing the faceless villain. They reveal he was a high-ranking member of the government of Offalia who stole a chemical which alters the molecular composition of flesh before suggesting they all team up. Heading back to Bizerk’s place, it soon becomes clear that they are actually working for Proteus and that the faceless fiend knows Ryder’s other identity…

With #5, inker Mike Peppe joined Ditko and O’Neil as the epic swung into high gear with ‘The Color of Rain is Death!’ Proteus makes his closing moves, attacking many of Jack’s associates and framing him again whilst preparing for the criminal masterstroke which will win him much of the city’s wealth.

Luring the Creeper into the sewers just as a major storm threatens to deluge the city, the face-shifter reveals a scheme to blow up the drainage system and cause catastrophic flooding. After a brutal battle, he also leaves The Creeper tied to a grating to drown…

The stunning saga closed with the final issue of Beware the Creeper #6 (March/April 1969), by which time Ditko had all but abandoned his creation. ‘A Time to Die’ saw tireless and reliable everyman artist Jack Sparling pencil most of the story as the Creeper escapes his death-trap, deciphers the wily villain’s true game-plan and delivers a crushing final defeat.

It was fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but it somehow it wasn’t satisfactory and it wasn’t what we wanted.

This was a time when superheroes went into a steep decline with supernatural and genre material rapidly gaining prominence throughout the industry. With Fights ‘n’ Tights comics folding all over, Ditko concentrated again on Charlton’s mystery line, the occasional horror piece for Warren and his own projects…

In the years his own comic was dormant, the Creeper enjoyed many guest shots in other comics and it was established that the city he prowled was in fact Gotham. When Ditko returned to DC in the mid-1970s, tryout series 1st Issue Special was alternating new concepts with revivals of old characters.

Issue #7 (October 1975) gave the quirky crusader another shot at stardom in ‘Menace of the Human Firefly’ written by Michael Fleisher and inked by Mike Royer. It saw restored TV journalist Jack Ryder inspecting the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary just as manic lifer Garfield Lynns breaks jail to resume his interrupted costumed career as the master of lighting effects. By the time the rogue’s brief but brilliant rampage is over the Creeper has discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities…

The story wasn’t enough to restart the rollercoaster, but a few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots and shine again.

For World’s Finest Comics #249-255 (February/March 1978-February/March 1979) Ditko was invited to produce a series of 8-page vignettes starring his most iconic DC creation. This time he wrote as well as illustrated and the results are pure eccentric excellence.

The sequence begins with ‘Moon Lady and the Monster’ as Ryder – once again a security operative for Cosmic Broadcasting Network – has to ferret out a grotesque brute stalking a late night horror-movie hostess, after which #250’s ‘Return of the Past’ reprises the origin as Angel Devilin gets out of jail and goes looking for revenge…

In WFC #251, ‘The Disruptor’ proves to be a blackmailer attempting to extort CBN by sabotaging programmes whilst ‘The Keeper of Secrets is Death!’ in the next issue follows the tragic murder of Dr. Joanne Russell who is accused on a sensationalistic TV of knowing the Creeper’s secret identity…

In #253, ‘The Wrecker’ is an actual grudge-bearing mad scientist who has built a most unconventional robot, whilst ‘Beware Mr. Wrinkles!’ in #254 debuts a villain with the power to age his victims. Neither, however, are a match for the tireless, spring-heeled Technicolor Tornado, and his too-short return culminates in a lethal duel with a knife-throwing jewel thief in #255’s ‘Furious Fran and the Dagger Lady’

Until this volume, that was it for Ditko devotees and Creeper collectors, but as the final delight in this splendid compendium reveals, there was more. An ill-considered expansion was followed by the infamous “DC Implosion” in 1978 when a number of titles were shut down or cancelled before release. One of those was Showcase #106 which would have featured a new all-Ditko Creeper tale.

It was collected – with a number of other lost treasures – in a copyright-securing minimum print run, monochrome internal publication entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Here, from #2 (1978) and presented in stark black & white, fans can see the Garish Gallant’s last Ditko-devised hurrah as ‘Enter Dr. Storme’ pits the Creeper (and cameo crimebuster The Odd Man) against a deranged weatherman turned climactic conqueror with the power to manipulate the elements.

Fast, fight-filled, furiously fun and devastatingly dynamic, Beware the Creeper was a high-point in skewed superhero sagas and this is a compendium no lovers of the genre can do without.
© 1968, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter


By Jack Miller, Joe Samachson, Dave Wood, Edmund Hamilton, Bob Kane, Joe Certa, Lew Sayre Schwartz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1368-8 (TPB)

Stress-alleviating Fun is in pretty short supply everywhere these days, but if you’re a comics fan susceptible to charming nostalgia, this item – readily available in paperback, but tragically still not compiled in any digital format yet – might just appeal to the starry-eyed wanderer in you…

As the 1950’s opened, comic book superheroes were in inescapably steep decline, giving way to a steady stream of genre-locked he-men and “Ordinary Joes” caught in extraordinary circumstances. By the time the “Red-baiting”, witch-hunting Senate hearings and media investigations into causes of juvenile delinquency had finished mid-decade, the industry was further depleted by the excision of any sort of mature content or themes.

The self-imposed Comics Code Authority took all the hard edges out of the industry, banning horror and crime comics whilst leaving their ghostly, sanitised anodyne shades to inhabit the remaining adventure, western, war and fantasy titles that remained. American comics – for which read a misperceived readership comprising only children – could have bowdlerised concepts of evil and felonious conduct, but not the simplest kind of repercussion: a world where mad scientists plotted to conquer humanity without killing anybody and cowboys shot guns out of opponents’ hands or severed gun-belts with a well-aimed bullet without ever drawing blood…

Moreover, no civil or government official or public servant could be depicted as anything other than a saint…

With corruption, venality and menace removed from the equation, comics were forced to supply punch and tension to their works via mystery and imagination – but only as long as it all had a rational, non-supernatural explanation…

Beating by a year the new Flash (who launched in Showcase #4 cover-dated October 1956) and arguably the first superhero of the Silver Age, the series depicting the clandestine adventures of stranded alien scientist J’onn J’onzz was initially entitled John Jones, Manhunter from Mars: a decent being unwillingly trapped on Earth who fought crime secretly using his incredible powers, knowledge and advanced technical abilities with no human even aware of his existence.

However, even before that low-key debut, Batman #78 trialled the concept in ‘The Manhunter From Mars!’ (August/September 1953) wherein Edmund Hamilton, Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charlie Paris told the tales of Roh Kar, a lawman from the Fourth Planet who assisted the Dynamic Duo in capturing a Martian bandit plundering Gotham City. That stirring yarn opens this first magnificent monochrome compendium which also includes the eccentric, frequently formulaic but never disappointing back-up series from Detective Comics #225 to 304, spanning November 1955 – June 1962.

In one of the longest tenures in DC comics’ history, all the art for the series was by veteran illustrator Joe Certa (1919-1986), who had previously worked for the Funnies Incorporated comics “Shop”. His credits included work on Captain Marvel Junior and assorted genre titles for Magazine Enterprises (Dan’l Boone, Durango Kid), Lev Gleason’s crime comics and Harvey romance titles. For DC he drew nautical sleuth Captain Compass and many anthological tales for such titles as Gang Busters and House of Mystery.

Certa also drew the newspaper strip Straight Arrow and ghosted long-lived boxing strip Joe Palooka. In the 1970s he moved to Gold Key, working on TV adaptations, mystery tales and all-ages horror stories.

At the height of global Flying Saucer fever John Jones, Manhunter from Mars debuted in Detective Comics #225 (cover-dated November 1955). Written by Joe Samachson, ‘The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel’ describes how a reclusive genius builds a robot-brain able to access Time, Space and the Fourth Dimension, and accidentally plucks an alien scientist from his home on Mars. After a brief conversation with his unfortunate guest, Erdel succumbs to a heart attack whilst attempting to return the incredible J’onn J’onzz to his point of origin.

Marooned on Earth, the Martian realises his new home is riddled with the primitive cancer of Crime and determines to use his natural abilities (which include telepathy, mind-over-matter psychokinesis, shape-shifting, invisibility, intangibility, super-strength, speed, flight, vision, invulnerability and many others) to eradicate the blight, working clandestinely disguised as a human policeman. His only concern is the commonplace chemical reaction of fire which saps Martians of all their mighty powers…

With his name Americanised to John Jones he enlists as a Police Detective and, with #226’s ‘The Case of the Magic Baseball’ began a long and peril-fraught career tackling a variety of Earthly thugs and mobsters, starting with the sordid case of Big Bob Michaels – a reformed ex-con and baseball player blackmailed into throwing games by a gang of crooked gamblers. He continues in ‘The Man with 20 Lives’ where the mind-reading cop impersonates a ghost to force a confession from a hard-bitten killer.

The tantalising prospect of a return to Mars confronts Jones in the Dave Wood scripted ‘Escape to the Stars’ (Detective #228) wherein criminal scientist Alex Dunster cracks the secret of Erdel’s Robot Brain. However, duty overrules selfish desire and the mastermind destroys his stolen super-machine when Jones arrests him…

With issue #229 Jack Miller took over as series writer, leading off with ‘The Phantom Bodyguard’ as the Hidden Hero signs on to protect a businessman from his murderous partner only to discover a far more complex plot unfolding, before #230’s ‘The Sleuth Without a Clue’ finds the covert cop battling a deadline to get the goods on a vicious gang, just as a wandering comet causes his powers to malfunction…

Detective Comics #231 heralds the series’ shift towards its sci fi roots in ‘The Thief who had Super Powers!’, as an impossible bandit proves to be simply another refugee from the Fourth Planet, after which ‘The Dog with a Martian Master’ is revealed to be just another delightful if fanciful animal champion. Jones returns to straight crime-busting and clandestine cops and robbers capers by becoming ‘The Ghost from Outer Space’ in #233 and goes undercover in a prison to thwart a smart operator in #234’s ‘The Martian Convict’.

He infiltrates a circus as ‘The World’s Greatest Magician’ to catch a Phantom Thief and finally re-establishes contact with his extraterrestrial family to solve ‘The Great Earth-Mars Mystery’ in #236 before seeing out 1956 as ‘The Sleuth Who went to Jail’ – this time one operated by crooks – and loses his powers to work as an ‘Earth Detective for a Day’ in #238.

For Detective #239 (January 1957) ‘Ordeal By Fire!’ finds the Anonymous Avenger transferred to the Fire Department to track down an arson ring, whilst in ‘The Hero Maker’ Jones surreptitiously uses his powers to help a retiring cop go out on a high before yet another firebug targeting historical treasures sparks ‘The Impossible Manhunt’ in #241.

Jones thought he’d be safe as a underwater officer in ‘The Thirty Fathom Sleuth’ but even there flames find a way to menace him, after which he battles legendary Martian robot Tor in #243’s ‘The Criminal from Outer Space’ before doubling for an endangered actor in ‘The Four Stunts of Doom’ and busting up a clever racket utilising ‘The Phantom Fire Alarms’ in #245.

As a back-up feature, expectations were never particularly high but occasionally all the formula elements gelled to produce exemplary and even superb adventure tales such as #246’s ‘John Jones’ Female Nemesis’ which introduced pert, perky and pestiferous trainee policewoman Diane Meade. Being a 1950’s woman, naturally she had romance in mind, but was absent for the next equally engaging thriller wherein our indomitable alien cop puzzled over ‘The Impossible Messages’ of scurrilous smugglers and the marvellous tales of ‘The Martian Without a Memory’ in #248. Struck by lightning, Jones had to utilise human deductive skills to discern his lost identity, but almost exposed his own extraterrestrial secret in the process…

In Detective #249’s ‘Target for a Day’ the Martian disguises himself as the State Governor marked for death by a brutal gang whilst as ‘The Stymied Sleuth!’ in #250 he is forced to stay in hospital to protect his alien identity as radium thieves run amok in town, after which he seemingly becomes a brilliant crook himself… ‘Alias Mr. Zero’.

Issue #252 saw Jones confront a scientific super-criminal in ‘The Menace of the Super-Weapons’ before infiltrating a highly suspicious newspaper as ‘The Super Reporter!’ and invisibly battle rogue soldiers as ‘The One-Man Army’ in #254.

The Hidden Hero attempts to foil an audacious murder-plot encompassing the four corners of Earth in the ‘World-Wide Manhunt!’, after which #256’s ‘The Carnival of Doom’ pits him against canny crooks whilst babysitting a VIP kid before #257 sees the Starborn Sleuth perpetrating spectacular crimes to trap the ‘King of the Underworld!’

In Detective #258 Jones takes an unexpectedly dangerous vacation cruise on ‘The Jinxed Ship’ and return to tackle another criminal genius in ‘The Getaway King’ before helping a desolate and failing fellow cop in the heart-warming tale of ‘John Jones’ Super-Secret’, after which a shrink ray reduces him to ‘The Midget Manhunter!’ in #261.

It was an era of ubiquitous evil masterminds and another one used beasts for banditry in ‘The Animal Crime Kingdom’, whilst a sinister stage magician tested the Manhunter’s mettle and wits in #263’s ‘The Crime Conjurer!’ before the hero’s hidden powers are almost exposed after cheap hoods find a crashed capsule and unleash ‘The Menace of the Martian Weapons!’

Masked and costumed villains were still a rarity when J’onzz tackled ‘The Fantastic Human Falcon’ in #265 whilst ‘The Challenge of the Masked Avenger’ was the only case for a new – and inept – wannabe hero, after which the Martian’s sense of duty and justice force him to forego a chance to return home in #267’s ‘John Jones’ Farewell to Earth’

A menacing fallen meteor results in ‘The Mixed-Up Martian Powers’ and a blackmailing reporter almost becomes ‘The Man who Exposed John Jones’, after which a trip escorting an extradited felon from Africa results in J’onzz becoming ‘The Hunted Martian’.

The Manhunter’s origin was revisited in #271 when Erdel’s robot-brain accidentally froze the alien’s powers in ‘The Lost Identity’ before death threats compel Jones’ boss to appoint a well-meaning hindrance in the form of ‘The Super-Sleuth’s Bodyguard’

By the time Detective Comics #273 was released (November 1959) the Silver Age superhero revival was in full swing and, with a plethora of new costumed characters catching the public imagination, old survivors and hardy perennials like Green Arrow, Aquaman and others were given a thorough makeover. Perhaps the boldest was the new direction taken by the Manhunter from Mars as his undercover existence on Earth was revealed to all mankind as he very publicly battles and defeats a criminal from his home world in ‘The Unmasking of J’onn J’onzz’.

As part of the revamp, J’onzz lost the ability to use his powers whilst invisible and became a very high-profile superhero. At least his vulnerability to common flame was still a closely guarded secret…

This tale was followed by the debut of incendiary villain ‘The Human Flame’ in #274 and the introduction of a secret-identity-hunting romantic interest as policewoman Diane Meade returned in ‘John Jones’ Pesky Partner’ in #275.

‘The Crimes of John Jones’ finds the new superhero an amnesiac pawn of mere bank robbers before another fantastic foe debuted in #277 with ‘The Menace of Mr. Moth’. Invading Venusians almost cause ‘The Defeat of J’onn J’onzz’ next, and a hapless millionaire inventor nearly wrecks the city by accident with ‘The Impossible Inventions’

Advance word of an underworld plot makes the Manhunter ‘Bodyguard to a Bandit’ to keep a crook out of prison, whilst #281’s ‘The Menace of Marsville’ inadvertently grants criminals powers to equal his before another fallen meteorite temporarily turns Diane into ‘The Girl with the Martian Powers’ – or does it…?

To help out an imperilled ship captain, J’onzz becomes ‘The Amazing One-Man Crew’ whilst in #284 Diane – unaware of his extraterrestrial origins – tries to seduce her partner in ‘The Courtship of J’onn J’onzz’ after which monster apes tear up the city in ‘The Menace of the Martian Mandrills!’

Detective #286 sees ‘His Majesty, John Jones’ stand in for an endangered Prince in a take on The Prisoner of Zenda before ‘J’onn J’onzz’s Kid Brother’ T’omm is briefly stranded on Earth. Only one of the siblings could return…

‘The Case of the Honest Swindler’ in #288 features a well-meaning man accidentally endangering the populace with magical artefacts after which a quick trip to Asia pits the Martian against a cunning jungle conman in ‘J’onn J’onzz – Witch Doctor’.

When a movie is repeatedly sabotaged Diane assumes the job of lead stunt-girl with some assistance from the Manhunter in ‘Lights, Camera – and Doom!’ after which a lovesick suitor masquerades as ‘The Second Martian Manhunter’ to win his bride in #291 before ‘The Ex-Convicts Club’ almost founders before it begins when someone impersonates the reformed criminals to pulling new jobs. Luckily J’onzz is more trusting than most…

When Diane finds herself with a rival in policewoman Sally Winters their enmity can apparently only be resolved with ‘The Girl-Hero Contest’ after which the Manhunter pursues crooks into another dimension and is rendered ‘The Martian Weakling’ (in #294), thereafter becoming ‘The Martian Show-Off’ to inexplicably deprive a fellow cop of his 1000th arrest… When that mystery is solved, he acts as ‘The Alien Bodyguard’ for Diane who is blithely unaware that she has been marked for death…

In #297’s ‘J’onn J’onzz vs. the Vigilantes’, the Green Guardian exposes the secret agenda of a committee of wealthy “concerned citizens” before going to the aid of a stage performer who is ‘The Man Who Impersonated J’onn J’onzz!’ He then almost fails as a ‘Bodyguard for a Spy’ because Diane is jealous of the beautiful Princess in his charge…

Detective #300 unveiled ‘The J’onn J’onzz Museum’ – a canny ploy by a master criminal who believes he has uncovered the Martian’s secret weakness, whilst ‘The Mystery of the Martian Marauders’ sees the hero battling impossible odds when an army of his fellows invaded Earth…

‘The Crime King of Mount Olympus’ matches the Manhunter against a pantheon of Hellenic super-criminals to save Diane’s life after which more plebeian thugs attempt to expose his secret identity in ‘The Great J’onn J’onzz Hunt’

This first beguiling compendium then concludes with #304’s stirring tale of an academy of scientific lawbreaking when John Jones infiltrates ‘The Crime College’

Although certainly dated, these complex yet uncomplicated adventures are drenched in charm and still sparkle with innocent wit and wonder. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste nowadays, these exploits of the Manhunter from Mars are still an all-ages buffet of fun, thrills and action no fan should miss.
© 1953, 1955-1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 1


By Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira, Al Plastino, Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0787-8 (TPB)

Stress-alleviating Fun is in pretty short supply everywhere these days, but if you’re a comics fan susceptible to charming nostalgia, this item – readily available in paperback, but tragically still not compiled in any digital format yet – might be a remedy for those old Lockdown Blues…

When the blockbusting Man of Tomorrow debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention. However, even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and quickly catered to. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered with Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset…

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid worked alongside Clark and Lois from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) and was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. The lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940: somebody the same age as the target audience in place for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it became a monolithic hit. National Periodicals thus began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

As the decade progressed, the oh-so-cautious Editors at National/DC tentatively extended the franchise in 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway and it seemed there might be a fresh and sustainable appetite for costumed heroes and their unique brand of spectacular shenanigans. Try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6-7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in #9 and 10. Soon after, she won a series of her own – in actuality her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had her own solo-spot in Superman.

This scintillatingly addictive monochrome tome chronologically re-presents those experimental franchise expansions, encompassing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1-22, (September/October 1954 to August 1957) and Showcase #9 (July/August 1957), plus the very first Lois Lane solo strip (from Superman #28 – May/June 1944) as a welcome bonus.

The vintage all-ages entertainment (courtesy of dedicated creative team Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) begins with ‘The Boy of 1000 Faces’ in which the ebullient junior journalist displays his phenomenal facility for make-up and disguise to trap a jewel thief before heading to timber country and solving the ‘Case of the Lumberjack Jinx’ and latterly masquerading as ‘The Man of Steel’s Substitute’ to tackle public requests too trivial for his Kryptonian chum.

‘The Flying Jimmy Olsen’ opened the second issue with a daring tale of sheer idiocy as the lad swallows an alien power-potion with staggering disregard for the potential repercussions (a recurring theme of those simpler times) after which ‘The Hide and Seek Mystery’ displays his crime-solving pluck as Jim hunts down more jewel thieves. Then, the boy becomes ‘Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Ex-Pal’ to expose a cunning conman.

The red-headed rascal became ‘The Boy Millionaire’ in #3 when a wealthy dowager repaid a kind deed with a vast cash reward. Sadly, all that money brought Jimmy was scammers, conmen and murderous trouble. After that he heads to Tumbleweed, USA to cover a rodeo and somehow is (mis)taken for ‘The Fastest Gun in the West’ before meeting the highly suspect eccentric who is ‘The Man Who Collected Excitement’.

‘The Disappearance of Superman’ perplexes Metropolis in #4 until his valiant pal solves the mystery and saves the Caped Kryptonian’s life, whilst – as ‘The Hunted Messenger’ – Jimmy cheats certain death to outwit gangsters before replacing a regal look-alike and playing ‘King for a Day’ in a far off land threatened by a ruthless usurper.

In issue #5, ‘The Boy Olympics’ shares Jimmy’s sentimental side as he risks his job to help young news vendors from a rival paper and is almost replaced by a computer in ‘The Brain of Steel’, before beguiling and capturing a wanted felon with ‘The Story of Superman’s Souvenirs’…

The cutthroat world of stage conjuring finds him competing to become ‘The King of Magic’ in JO #6’s first tale, after which the diminutive lad endures a punishing diet regime – hilariously enforced by Superman – to cover the sports story of the year in ‘Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash’. The last tale sees Jimmy bravely recovering ‘100 Pieces of Kryptonite’ that fell on Metropolis, rendering Superman helpless and dying…

Jimmy Olsen #7 finds the boy teaching three rich wastrels a life-changing lesson in ‘The Amazing Mirages’, after which a magic carpet whisks him away to write ‘The Scoop of 1869’ before the lad’s boyhood skills enable him to become ‘The King of Marbles’, catching a crook and even more headlines…

In #8, pride in his investigative abilities and a slick conman compel him to uncover his pal’s secret identity in ‘The Betrayal of Superman’, after which he becomes ‘Superboy for a Day’ sort of) and wows the chicks when a sore throat transforms him into ‘Jimmy Olsen, Crooner’. Issue #9 opens with him disastrously switching jobs to become ‘Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor’: a TV quiz mastermind in kThe Million-Dollar Question’ and pilot of a prototype Superman robot in ‘The Missile of Steel’.

In #10, the canny lad turns the tables on a greedy hoaxer in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Martian Pal’ and suffers amnesia in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Forgotten Adventure’, before going back to nature as ‘Jungle Jimmy Olsen’, whilst the next issue sees him acting – after a stellar accident – as ‘Superman’s Seeing-Eye Dog’; dumping the neglectful and busy Man of Steel for a more appreciative comrade in kJimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s Pal’ and – accidentally – exposing a corrupt boxing scam as ‘T.N.T. Olsen, the Champ’.

He helps out a circus chum by becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Prince of Clowns’ in #12, thereafter uncovering ‘The Secret of Dinosaur Island’ and falling victim to a goofy – or just plain mad – scientist’s bizarre experiment to reluctantly become ‘The Invisible Jimmy Olsen’. In #13 he tracks a swindler via a half dozen namesakes in ‘The Six Jimmy Olsens’ before criminals then targeted the cub reporter’s secret weapon in ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ and the lad is himself subjected to a cruel but necessary deception when the Metropolis Marvel perpetrates ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super Illusions’…

Issue #14 opened with a time-travel western tale as the lad instigates ‘The Feats of Chief Super-Duper’, after which a scientific accident seemingly imbues the bold boy with Clark Kent’s personality and creates ‘The Meek Jimmy Olsen’, before the cub is lost in the American wilderness and outrageously mistaken for ‘The Boy Superman’…

JO #15 finds him demoted and at a dog-show where his infallible nose for news quickly uncovers ‘The Mystery of the Canine Champ’, after which an injudiciously swallowed serum gives him super-speed and he reinvents himself as ‘Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon’. Thereafter, a strange ailment forces him to dispose of his most treasured possessions in kUnwanted Superman Souvenirs’…

A scurrilous scammer in #16 offers to regress the kid’s consciousness and help him re-live ‘The Three Lives of Jimmy Olsen’, before a series of crazy coincidences compel identity-obsessed Clark to convince Lois Lane that Jimmy is ‘The Boy of Steel!’ Yet another chemical concoction then turns the lad into a compulsive fibber… ‘The Super Liar of Metropolis’.

The next thrill-packed issue featured ‘Jimmy Olsen in the 50th Century’ wherein the lad is transported to an era where history has conflated his and Superman’s lives, whilst in ‘The Case of the Cartoon Scoops’, he rediscovers a gift for drawing – and the curse of clairvoyance – before an horrific accident turns him into ‘The Radioactive Boy’…

In #18, humour is king as ‘The Super Safari’ finds young Jim using a “magic” flute to capture animals for a circus, whilst ‘The Riddle Reporter’ sees him lose scoops to a masked mystery journalist before having to nursemaid his best friend when a criminal’s time weapon turns the Man of Steel into ‘Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen’s Pal’…

In #19 ‘The Two Jimmy Olsens’ introduce a robot replica of the cub reporter whilst in ‘The Human Geiger Counter’ the kid becomes allergic to the Action Ace, after which a brain injury convinces him he is ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’. The next issue opened with ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super-Pet’ as a prized souvenir hatches into a living, breathing dinosaur. Misguided efforts to save a small-town newspaper then culminate in kThe Trial of Jimmy Olsen’, after which Superman secretly makes his pal ‘The Merman of Metropolis’ in a convoluted scheme to preserve his own alter ego.

Issue #21 reveals an unsuspected family skeleton and a curse which seemingly transforms reporter into pirate in ‘The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen’. Ingenuity – and a few gimmicks – then briefly turn him into junior hero ‘Wonder Lad’ whereas plain old arrogance and snooping are responsible for the humiliation resulting from ‘The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen’ to Lois Lane…

A month later, the lady at last starred in her own comicbook when – galvanised by a growing interest in superhero stories – the company’s premiere try-out title pitched a brace of issues focused on the burgeoning Superman family of features.

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in a trio of tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino: opening with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang, childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy, conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs.

Naturally, Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ sees Lois aggravatingly turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, before the premier concludes with the concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic wedded super-bliss…

When Lois Lane finally received her own shot at solo stardom, it was sadly very much on the terms of the times. I shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, liberal (notional) adult of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the patronising, nigh-misogynistic attitudes underpinning many of the stories.

I’m fully aware these stories were intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is indisputably crazy, downright insulting and tantamount to child abuse…

Oddly enough, the 1940s interpretation of the plucky news-hen was far less derogatory: Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but at least it was to advance her own career and put bad guys away… as seen in the superb 4-page vignette which closes this volume.

Back-up series ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter’ debuted in Superman #28 (May/June 1944): a breathless fast-paced screwball comedy-thriller by Don Cameron & Ed Dobrotka wherein the canny lass fails to talk a crazed jumper down from a ledge but saves him in another far more flamboyant manner, reaping the reward of a front page headline.

Before that Golden Age threat, however, there’s one last issue of the junior member of the Superman Family. Jimmy Olsen #22 begins with ‘The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes’, as the lad tracks down the reason wealthy men are masquerading as down-and-outs, before exposing the evil secrets behind ‘The Super-Hallucinations’ afflicting the Man of Tomorrow and ending with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ wherein resident affable crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. That cold, but surely benevolent being has a hidden agenda in play and is able to bend Superman to his hyper-intelligent will…

These spin-off supporting series were highly popular top-sellers for decades: blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gently addictive manner scripter Otto Binder had first perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel and his own myriad mini-universe of associated titles.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling and yes, occasionally deeply moving all-ages stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safely anodyne 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
© 1944, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors


By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2 (PB)

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and – on forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part – sell more comic books.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolated themselves from the mortal world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. She would be chosen by triumphing over all her sisters in a grand tournament. Although forbidden to compete, Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick but poverty-stricken care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy yet supremely competent and capable Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star-Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes along with Superman, Batman and a few lucky second-stringers who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller & Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title in that turbulent marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war title Fight the Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly outdated and moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would subsequently work the same magic with equally stalled icon Supergirl

The big change came when the Amazons were compelled to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her mystic weaponry. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching rather rapidly trained her as a martial artist, and she soon became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly, her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman, but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and, in a few years, without fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten. Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis: an African (or perhaps Hellenic?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not. Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me…

By the time Lynda Carter made the concept work in 1975, Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity, the readers and fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 through 222 (cover-dates July 1974 – March 1976), detailing how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as our Hellenic Hellion thwarts a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building… where Diana Prince now works as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly meets old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realises her memories have been tampered with and suddenly understands why her JLA colleagues haven’t called her to any meetings… She had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades beg her to re-enlist, she declines, fearing her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading, she relents enough to suggest the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – until she proves herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind, if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agree, she leaves and Superman begins the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing she has been subjected to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, Diana confronts her mother and learns of her time as a mere mortal… and of Steve’s death.

Although the past has been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demands that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World, a crisis is already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier exerts his uncanny influence over women to control female Heads of State. Ultimately, however, his powers prove ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case, Diana Prince changes jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission isn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell, detailing how an alien robot removes all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observes, however, ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashes all bravery, determination, confidence and capability. The species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily, Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal are all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclose Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost starts World War III and the Princess of Power must avert nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watches Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 finds Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ (Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta).

The tale concerns an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man sets foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaces in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow is caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacks the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger, issue #218 offers two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reports on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer uses mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermine Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily witnesses her foil a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animates and enrages the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller. Thus, WW #219 sees Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’, with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man covertly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watches Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal bandit Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been simultaneously watching Diana tackle another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report details how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince was targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combine a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wraps up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (illustrated by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon has been subverted into a monster feeding off people whilst replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, here is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shade, the Changing Man volume: The American Scream


By Peter Milligan, Chris Bachalo, Mark Pennington & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0046-6 (TPB)

Even before DC hived off its “Mature Readers” sophisticated horror/hero series to become the backbone of the self-sustaining Vertigo line in 1993, the company had begun to differentiate between standard all-ages superhero sagas, new stand-alone concepts such as Gilgamesh II, Skreemer, Haywire or World Without End and edgy, off-the-wall, quasi-costumed fantasy and supernatural suspense titles as Doom Patrol, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Sandman, Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. Perhaps the most radical and challenging was a darkly psychedelic reworking of Steve Ditko’s lost masterpiece of modern paranoia Shade the Changing Man.

In the original 1977 mainstream series Rac Shade was a secret observer from the other-dimensional Meta-Zone. Framed for terrorism and sedition, he went rogue; using untried stolen technology to combat a wave of insanity that emanated from “the Area of Madness” within the Zero-Zone separating his world from ours. Said madness threatened both universes and Shade was resolved to stop it, despite the best efforts of sinister self-serving forces from Earth and Meta determined to destroy him.

When Peter Milligan, Chris Bachalo & Mark Pennington began to rework the character, much of Ditko’s original concept remained but was brutally tweaked for the far more cynical and worldly readers of the Blank Generation…

This collection – available in old-fashioned trade paperback and almost otherworldly digital formats – re-presents the first six issues of the new Shade from July to December 1990 and begins by introducing deeply disturbed Kathy George, patiently awaiting the final sanction on spree-killer Troy Grenzer.

Years previously, the unrepentant psycho-killer butchered her parents – and almost her too – and when her black boyfriend tackled the knife-wielding manic the Louisiana police shot her saviour instead of the white assailant…

Now in the final hours before Grenzer finally sits in the electric chair on ‘Execution Day’, Kathy is experiencing wild hallucinations. That’s nothing new: following the deaths of everyone she’d ever loved, Kathy was committed to an asylum until her inheritance ran out. Then she was released, apparently “too poor to be crazy” anymore.

Becoming a thief and a grifter, she wandered America until a radio report informed her Grenzer was about to be put to death. Inexplicably, Kathy found herself heading back to Louisiana…
On Death Row, things aren’t going according to plan. Bizarre lights, strange visions and electrical phenomena interrupt the execution and, as a fantastic reality-warping explosion occurs, Grenzer’s body vanishes…

On a hillside overlooking the prison, Kathy is pursued by an animated electric chair and Grenzer materialises in her car – only he claims not to be the serial killer but Rac Shade: a secret agent from another dimension who left his own body in an otherworldly Area of Madness to mentally occupy the now-vacant corpse of the serial killer.

It isn’t the craziest thing Kathy has ever heard, and even if it isn’t true, at least she has a chance to personally kill the man who destroyed her life…

As the drive away together, insane things keep happening. Shade explains that his transition to Earth caused a rupture in the fabric of the universes – a trauma in Reality…

Slowly acclimatising, Shade explains his original body is clad in experimental technology and his “M-Vest” connects his subconscious to the chaos of the Madness zone. His job was to come here and stop a plague of materialised insanity threatening both worlds, but now he’s actually given it easier access to ours…

After a climactic struggle with her own ghosts and traumas, Kathy reluctantly agrees to help the semi-amnesiac Shade in his mission.

Meanwhile at a Mental Hospital, uncanny events culminate in a ghastly reordering of people and matter itself: a horrific nigh-sentient phenomenon dubbed “the American Scream” breaks through from somewhere else and threatens all life and rationality on Earth. With casual daydreams, flights of fantasy and vicious whims increasingly given substance and solidity, the government – well aware of the crisis – dispatched Federal Agents Stringer and Conner to investigate…

The quest proper begins as the fugitives from justice troll through the hinterlands of American Culture and its Collective Unconscious, ending up in Dallas where obsessed author Duane Trilby, determined to discover ‘Who Shot JFK?’, finds himself conversing with the tarnished martyr himself. As the murdered president returns to the scene of the crime, the city starts to literally unravel, with a giant idolatrous bust of the victim bursting through the tarmac of Dealey Plaza, incessantly screaming for answers…

The chaos affects Shade, as the last vestiges of Grenzer’s personality repossess the body they share, determined to at last add Kathy to his tally of victims, even as Agents Stringer and Conner – convinced she is connected to Grenzer’s abrupt disappearance from his own execution – follow her to Texas. With madness rampant, Shade and Kathy are drawn into Trilby’s materialisation of events, becoming JFK and Jackie, inexorably heading toward death in that open-topped car…

The measured insanity escalates in ‘All the President’s Assassins!’ as Trilby saves Shade/JFK and slowly reveals his own personal tragedy: one which drove him to solve an impossible conundrum and avoid an agonising admission…

All the while, the Metan’s consciousness is being dragged into a succession of traumatised participants before realising he must defeat this outbreak of the American Scream quickly or surely fragment and die…

Escaping into his own past on Meta in ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’, Shade physically re-experiences his early life, whilst in Dallas Stringer and Conner apprehend Kathy.

A lovelorn, impressionable poet, young dropout Rac Shade was tricked into becoming an agent and sent to Earth because it was apparently the source of devastating waves of insanity plaguing Meta, but en route he was sucked into the Area of Madness, meeting the American Scream face to face…

Falling back to Earth, Rac frees Kathy and they flee, arriving in Los Angeles in time to struggle with the dark underbelly of the film industry as it comes to murderous, sadistic life and starts stalking the stars and moguls who create the vicious yet glorious land of dreams. First singled out are the cast and crew of in-production zombie epic Hollywood Monsters, who endure shame and career destruction as impossible film-clips of their deepest secrets and darkest transgressions manifest. Soon after, mutilations and deaths begin, before a psychedelic crescendo is reached in ‘Hollywood Babble On II’ with Shade and Kathy fighting their way through a physically-realised and highly biased history of Tinsel Town triumphs and travesties, before finally seizing control of the noxious narrative and beating the Madness at its own game…

Sporting a stunning cover gallery by Brendan McCarthy, this terrifying tome is darkly ironic and blackly comedic, whilst gripping and dripping with razor-edged social commentary. Shade, the Changing Man added a sparkling brew of sardonic wit to the horror and action staples of the medium and remains one of the most challenging and intriguing series in comics history. Check it out.
© 1990, 2003, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.